I have just returned from an amazing family holiday- from the lovely warmth of the sun, to the not so warm sun of a UK October morning! Still, at least there is no rain, right? I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to get back in to work, when I have come back from holiday. Yes, we all have the post-holiday ‘blues’, which definitely makes it harder to focus, but it is also such a strain to actually want to put in the effort! Well, a study I read about recently may give me the answer to all my woes…
A study by Psychologists (White et al., 2017), published in the Journal for Child Development suggests that perhaps by pretending to be a fictional superhero, in this case Batman, can help 4-6 year olds focus on mundane tasks that they are given. Let me explain this a little better…
A group of 153 4-6 year old children were given computer based tasks to do, for a given 10 minute period. They were encouraged to take a break, whenever they wished, which consisted of playing an exciting game on an iPad. I know what I would want to do, but that said, I do tend to procrastinate quite a lot, and I am older and aware of what I am doing!
The children were split into three groups- the first group, the control group, were assigned to be ‘self-immersed’, meaning that before and after the task, they were asked to reflect on how well they were doing- for example, ‘am I working hard enough?’
The second group were asked to reflect from a third person perspective- ‘Is (actual name) working hard?’ The final group were asked to consider themselves as a superhero- either Batman, Bob the builder, Rapunzel or Dora the Explorer, and were asked to imagine themselves as the superhero whilst attending to the computer tasks, and asking themselves the question ‘Is Batman working hard?’ This group of children were also given a relevant prop, such as Batman’s cape, to help them. For all groups, once every minute a recorded voice asked a question, appropriate to each group- ‘Are you working hard? Is X working hard? Is Batman working hard?’
Not surprisingly, 6 year olds spent more time on their tasks than 4 year olds, but quite surprisingly, those who were in the Batman group spent 55% of their time focusing on tasks, on the self-immersed group, 35% and 22% for the third person group. The children who were focused on being a superhero focused and worked for longer than any of the other groups.
So, what does this mean to us, either as adults or for our children? Well, at the very least it is making a mundane task more interesting, but what it is also doing is allowing us to step back from what we are doing- self-distancing from tasks is known to actually help us prioritise our goals and help us to focus and resist distractions. This makes sense, as self-distancing is almost the opposite of rumination, so we are stopping ourselves from ruminating and worrying about a task, which is also linked to procrastination.. by focusing, we are getting the task done, quicker and more efficiently.
Maybe the children enjoyed taking on the characteristics of a superhero and found the tasks easier to achieve by thinking in greater depth about the ramifications and effects? The truth is that there are far too many variables here to actually work out why there was a significant difference in focus and concentration levels. But what this research does suggest, is that focus and perseverance could be encouraged and taught through role play- go in to any school or pre-school and I am sure you will find the majority of children, at these young ages, playing role play games, whether as superhero’s, doctors, nurses or mums and dads. Maybe this is the secret to helping resist that procrastination that causes me so much difficulty?
Whatever it is, don’t be surprised if you see me walking in to work this week with my Wonder Woman lasso and bracelets of submission..
White, R.E., Prager, E.O., Schaefer, C..K.E., Duckworth, A.L. and Carlson, S.M. (2017) ‘The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children. Child Dev’, Child Development, vol. 88, no. 5, pp. 1563 – 1571.